A 27-YEAR wrangle over a right of way near Richmond appears to be over after councillors agreed to downgrade the route from bridleway to footpath.

The decision satisfied farmers and landowners but angered cyclists and horse riders, who said they would be forced on to busy roads.

Farmers and residents of the Applegarths area, on the border of Richmond town and Marske parish, raised the issue of a possible mistake on the definitive map in 1977. The route was marked as a bridleway but contained stone squeeze stiles, which meant horses could not pass.

A formal application to downgrade the route to a footpath was made by Ashley Barker, of Applegarth Farm, on behalf of residents in 1987. The authorities have tried to sort out the complicated legal status of the route ever since.

North Yorkshire County Council's Richmondshire area committee finally agreed to the downgrade last week.

Residents who backed Mr Ashley's application said the route had not been used by horses since the Seventies. The Ramblers' Association admitted a mistake had been made during its surveying of the route in the Fifties.

Supporters of the application produced evidence that the stone stiles had been in place at least as far back as 1916.

Strong opposition to the downgrade was raised by individuals and organisations, including the British Horse Society, the British Mountain Bike Federation and Swaledale Outdoor Club.

They claimed the stiles were illegal obstructions and should be removed and submitted maps which they say proved the bridleway existed in 1766.

The committee agreed that a mistake had been made when the definitive map was drawn up in the Fifties and authorised a modification order to downgrade the route.

Following the meeting, cyclists and horse riders said the move removed the only bridleway which connected Richmond with Swaledale.

John Deighton, of Swaledale Outdoor Club, said: "Assuming this goes ahead, it will effectively eliminate any through route along Applegarth and put many horses and mountain bikes on to already busy roads and cause increased accidents, with possible loss of life."